A heavyweight scribe tribe ensures a high-grade professionalism in the assembly of “Out of Practice.” Getting the prize CBS timeslot between “Two and a Half Men” and “CSI: Miami,” the team behind “Frasier,” Joe Keenan and Christopher Lloyd, has made an old-fashioned family laffer that arrives with well-defined characters, sharp writing (despite plenty of boob jokes) and Kelsey Grammer’s solid direction. Show already feels like it’s been on air for three seasons … in a good way.
Keenan and Lloyd don’t stray far from the “Frasier” formula: The center of “Practice” is Ben Barnes (Christopher Gorham), the one member of the Barnes family who is not an MD, but works as a marriage counselor. (He is married but we never see the wife.)
The Barnes clan comes and goes at a coffee shop peopled with hospital workers. The parents, Lydia (Stockard Channing) and Stewart (Henry Winkler) are divorced, and it has fallen on Ben to be his mother’s chaperone and seat-filler as she makes her way to the theater, the opera and charity events. Stewart, meanwhile, has his dim-witted receptionist Crystal (Jennifer Tilly) to keep him warm at night.
Ben’s siblings have thriving medical jobs: Oliver (Ty Burrell) is a plastic surgeon who believes he is a suave ladies man; and sister Regina (Paula Marshall) is a lesbian who works in the E.R.
Ben attempts to reunite the family for his 30th birthday at which the venom flies in the direction of his militant, vegan wife who is off hugging a tree. Family hears a message that suggests she won’t be returning home, having found someone who shares her interests.
A day later, Ben is down in the dumps and the family, one member at a time, steps in to remind him of his resolve and talents; there is a reassuring note about one of his couple clients that should further warm the hearts of auds pulled in by the Barnes families charms and idiosyncrasies.
“Practice” takes advantage of Channing’s ability to wield a sharp tongue — Lydia is a character about to come unglued and she conveys that marvelously — and Winkler’s “Mister-Rogers”-like friendliness.
Stewart is fatherly yet guarded, which Winkler handles nicely. Role is a dramatic turn away from the confused lawyer he has played on “Arrested Development” the past two seasons.
Gorham, in his first starring role, is immediately likeable and will fit in well in CBS’ string of comedies led by loveable men. Burrell’s Oliver is written as an over-the-top character and he delivers appropriately and Marshall, provided her Regina gets to amp up her smart-ass ways, will bring a nice texture to the show. Tilly was a late add to the cast and is not seen much in the pilot.
Grammer’s direction is efficient and tidy, but this is not a risk-taking operation: “Out of Practice” gives CBS a new family to look after now that the Barones have moved on.